MarkLogic Users Conference 2011 Impressions
I just returned from the MarkLogic Users Conference in San Francisco. I had a good time. I think the conference was worthwhile. I'd go again, and I'd recommend it as a regular ritual for those that create on the MarkLogic platform.
San Francisco was very fun. About half the tech conferences out there are probably in this city, so there's nothing unique to the MLUC here. The conference was held at The Palace hotel. It is indeed quite grand. The staff was very nice and accomodating. The most impressive was the dining area just inside the front entry -- very cool.
My favorite keynote was probably that given by Robert Sutton as he talked about great leaders and inventive teams. It was definitely the most big-picture and general item talk, and it was probably the most inspiring. Really, it had the potential to also be the most life-altering. My second favorite was probably by Jason Monberg as a part of the next generation of unstructured data talk -- great moon landing analogy.
Surprisingly and unfortunately, I thought the intro keynote by the new CEO, Ken Bado, was a little stiff. The content was fine, but the delivery came across and rehearsed and too teleprompter-supported, especially where he was trying to connect with his new customers. But, no problem. He seemed to loosen up and get in his groove as the talk went on, as I'm sure his tenure as the new MarkLogic CEO will progress as well. I was impressed when he helped a fellow on-stage executive get past a little brain cramp of his own.
What better measure of a company than the degree to which they serve their customers? Over and over again, the MarkLogic employees that I heard on stage or in front of a podium seemed very accomodating -- even begging -- for user feedback and requests. They reiterated over and over that they were there to serve us. The symbiotic relationship was reiterated many times. I can't speak too much to MarkLogic corporation's relationship with our corporation, because I don't work at that level. But, they sure seemed responsive at the conference.
Some reasons might be obvious and self-serving for them as they are creating a product in large part to make a profit and serve their customers. And most in the audience were indeed their customers. And sure, a lot of their responsiveness and assistance is experienced through their professional services and the accompanying expensive consulting fees. But, anyone can do that. And businesses need to be profitable to survive.
From what I heard in talks and in conversations with MarkLogic employees, I perceived a real attitude and way of doing business that backed up what they were saying. I felt that when they asked for desirable features from their customers for future products that they would actually implement them. I felt that when they asked for feedback on what parts of the product were slow or clunky that they really meant it and that they cared about their craft enough to fix it. I felt that when they asked what we were working on and how it was going that they really wanted to know about our success. When Joe Dalton, their CMO, spoke I really had the impression that they are sincere about building not just profits, but a better company with values of substance.
The most interesting slidedeck I saw was by John Snelson as he spoke about upcoming transaction mechanisms in MarkLogic Server 5.0. It was presented in ~Keynote~ what I think was Prezi on a Macbook. But, his hardware was the exception at the conference. I found the lack of Apple products among the conference attendees and MarkLogic employees very refreshing. Interesting code can be written on hardware that performs better, doesn't have the same pop appeal, but costs a lot less. MarkLogic and their employees definitely don't seem to be Apple fanboys and don't pretend to need the sleek hardware to drive up their coolness factor, which seems to be a general them in many other places. If I had to guess, MarkLogic gets most of their employee hardware from HP.
I was constantly being very impressed with the caliber of people that were gathered at this conference. I could characterize literally everyone I met as very smart and very kind. What better could be said of a group? Of course, there are always exceptions. Who knows, many would probably think me an exception on both counts in some circles :) but I was impressed with those I met -- both attendees and employees. Dare I go too over the top, even the sponsors were impressive. :)
There was a lot of access to MarkLogic employees here, from execs, to other management, to engineers and designers. And those that I asked in informal conversation always gave good feedback about their company. The top talent, back to even their original founder and architect were available for talks, formal and informal, which is probably unique compared with other tech conferences. This company is relatively young, and its user base is relatively small. That creates challenges, but it also creates opportunities.
Last year, I actually chose not to go to the MLUC. I looked at the session list, and it looked to me like a marketing conference, where the provider tried to drum up more and continued business. When some of my coworkers returned they reported that it did indeed feel like a lot of business hype. So, this year, it was with a little bit of trepidation that I decided to go to this conference. But, I was pleasantly surprised. There were many super-smart engineers at the conference, and they shared some really cool stuff. I felt like I got all the technical conversation I wanted.
The hands-on opportunities were there, but they felt a little awkward. They were in the form of self-paced, printed lab worksheets, where you could walk yourself through any number of things ranging from setting up your MarkLogic dev environment in Eclipse to using different libraries or doing some performace tuning. To me, they felt awkward because I didn't really feel like going to another room and reading some piece of paper to myself whilst other developer-related talks were happening that I couldn't get later or elsewhere.
I was very encouraged to hear from CEO Ken Bado that he felt they had neglected the developer community, but that they realized that the dev community was the lifeblood of their platform and that they were going to improve drastically. It'll be interesting to see how that materializes, but I was at least refreshed to hear the confession.
In all, I felt that the technical conversations that I had consisted of the most worthwhile part of the conference. There was a lot of sharing of best practices. There were a ton of tools and frameworks brought to my attention that I didn't know about before. And all that generally made me question the way I had been doing things, which I think is a good thing.
I was invited to give a talk on unit testing XQuery on MarkLogic as a part of the conference. Considering the caliber of the attendees and other talks, I felt very honored to be there. My track manager, Dale Kim, was very helpful and provided good feedback during preparation and the day of my talk. I felt like it went well, but could have been improved. It seemed to be well-received. I look forward to more feedback. It was hard to decide how to approach a subject that I deal with on a technical level every day but that I presented to a mixed audience of developers and business types. In conflict with my own tech conference advice, I added my own deck of `psychedelic slides](http://rockycode.com/blog/unit-testing-xquery-marklogic/) to the world.
TSA. Egh. My favorite tweet of the day from @mikewhitmore: "Bin Ladin is dead! Can I travel with more than a 3 oz toothpaste now?"
Airplanes were definitely not made for tall people.